Mark Kozelek’s American folk rock band ‘Sun Kil Moon’ has generally received positive album reviews since its first release in 2008. Though considered to be a band, ‘Sun Kil Moon’ is very much a solo project for the ex-Red House Painter’s front man. As a result it’s no surprise that this album was released on Mark Kozelek’s very own record label: Caldo Verde Records.
Kozelek’s music is characterised by long narratives, and this album is no different. Kozelek spends over two hours discussing topics from David Bowie, to Trump, and then to the current social media craze, which he believes to be damaging to the human race. As a result, this album tends to shift topics both between tracks but also during tracks, with ‘Philadelphia Cop’, the highlight of the album, discussing homicide in the US, Twitter, music journalism and then David Bowie, all in the space of almost 11 minutes. The result of these subject shifts is that Kozelek’s songs tend to sound like the nonsensical ramblings of a street preacher rather than the well considered lyrics of a internationally recognised musician. And, whilst this may be fun for a standard LP, the sheer length of Sun Kil Moon’s latest release only serves to diminish the success of the album.
‘Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood’ (Common as Light) is Sun Kil Moon’s second solo release where Kozelek has adopted an almost exclusively spoken word approach to the delivery of his stories. Previous releases, such as ‘Benji’ (2014) were artistically more conservative. Benji, whilst delivering the same trademark Kozelek narratives, the delivery is rather more standard, in that it is sung rather than spoken. Universal Themes (2015) can be seen as the album where Kozelek’s writing shifted. The album itself was interesting and ingenious, given that the it possessed a general theme (Kozelek’s experiences acting in a film), and also that it was rather unique that year. The problem with Kozelek’s new musical technique is that it become repetitive and predictable relatively quickly. As a result, after listening to Universal Themes for almost two years, it comes as no surprise to a listener familiar with Kozelek’s work when he introduces harmony sporadically throughout his songs or shifts his tone from soft discussion to forceful accusations. The underwhelming nature of Sun Kil Moon’s latest release, therefore, might be down to the predictable nature of his music; unpredictability being a key feature in the success of Universal Themes. The 2 hour and 9 minute running time of the album certainly also contributes to this predictability.
Whilst Kozelek attempts to give off the appearance of suave nonchalance, Common as Light’s title and its track listing only serves to suggest pretentiousness. This negative impression is only heightened by listening to the album itself. Kozelek gives off the air of believing in his own infallibility, a characteristic which does not sit well. Unlike previous albums, such as ‘Benji’, in which it was easy to identify the emotions of Kozelek, this album lacks personality. If the singer wants to regain his commercial success (which he will say he doesn’t, no doubt), it may be time for him to learn from his earlier albums, and adopt a move away from the spoken word technique he is currently employing.
This album, if not already clear in this review, is disappointing. It possesses more fillers than decent tracks and the frequent adoption what sounds like preset drum tracks does little to liven up the album. Kozelek’s ramblings are hard to follow, and his harmonies are predictable. The album lacks the clear narratives of his earlier releases and the unpredictable nature of Universal Themes. To give this album two stars is to be rather generous.
Artist: Sun Kil Moon
Label: Caldo Verde Records
Release date: Feb 17, 2017
Play time: 129 mins
Standout track: Philadelphia Cop